Caramel Tea Cake TChingWhat’s better than tea with caramel and cream? A tea cake flavored with tea and caramel and then topped off with a tea-flavored whipped cream. For those rare occasions when I want to put something into my tea, I give into the urge and add heavy cream and caramel. This cake is an homage to that craving. A variation on pound cake, this tea-inflected version exhibits the classical quartet of ingredients – equal parts of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour – with a few tweaks. Here I add some chemical leavening in the form of baking powder to lighten the cake’s texture a bit and add a caramel syrup thinned down with brewed tea for flavor. The tea in the cake is subtle; caramel trumps all – not a bad thing – but with its envelope of billowy tea-flavored whipped cream, the tea flavor comes back to the fore.

Caramel Tea Cake

Serves 6-8 generously.

For the cake batter:
5 whole large eggs, separated (this should yield approximately 3 ounces of egg yolk and 5 ounces of egg white)
5 ounces cake flour
3 ounces all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
5 ounces granulated sugar (3/4 cup), divided – half into the egg whites and half into the creamed butter mixture
8 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature (not melting or greasy, but just malleable)
4 ounces tea caramel syrup (see recipe below)
1 t. pure vanilla extract

For the tea caramel syrup:
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup water
2 T. black tea leaves (I used a favorite Assam, Basmatia; other premium whole-leaf Assams yielding robust, deeply colored, and highly flavored brews would work as well here)
5 ounces water, heated to 212 degrees F

In a heavy saucepan, place the sugar and the first quantity of water. Cook over a medium heat without stirring until the mixture turns a golden brown. While the caramel is cooking, place the tea into the boiling water and brew it for about 4 minutes. Strain and set aside. When the caramel has reached an amber color, carefully add the brewed tea and stir with a wooden spoon until it is absorbed (the mixture should be the consistency of a thick honey). Cool thoroughly at room temperature. This syrup is used in both the cake and the whipped cream and is divided as noted in the recipe.

Note:  If you would like to serve the slices of cake with some tea caramel syrup, at this point make another batch of the syrup. It will keep refrigerated for at least a week and may be used to sweeten tea or drizzle into yogurt, on hot cereal, or over ice cream.

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and set the oven rack halfway up from the bottom of the oven. Spray the bottom and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each one with a round of baking parchment and spray the parchment lightly. If you do not have the requisite cake pans, you can bake the batter all in one pan, but be aware that the baking time will be longer; test with a skewer after 30 minutes and keep checking until the cake tests done.

  1. Separate the eggs and place the whites into the bowl of an electric mixer. Reserve the egg yolks in a small bowl.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients and set aside.
  3. Whip the egg whites, using the whisk attachment, to a foam and then gradually add half of the sugar, continuing to whip until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. Remove the beaten egg whites to a large bowl and set aside.
  4. Wash and dry the mixing bowl and continue to make the cake batter.
  5. Place the softened butter into the mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, whip until light in color, gradually adding the egg yolks and the remaining sugar. Mix to blend. Add cooled tea caramel syrup and mix again just to blend.
  6. By hand, fold in the first third of the sifted dry ingredients and the first third of the beaten egg whites. Add the next third of the dry ingredients and the second third of the beaten egg whites. Finally, alternate adding the remaining dry ingredients and beaten egg whites, ending with the egg whites. Pour into the prepared pans, rotate the pans to level the batter, and bake for approximately 30-35 minutes.
  7. Let cool and unmold the cakes.

To make the tea-caramel whipped cream:  

1 cup heavy or whipping cream
Remainder of the tea caramel syrup (approximately 2 ounces)

In the bowl of an electric mixer outfitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream just until it starts to thicken. At this point, add the tea caramel syrup and continue to whip until soft peaks form. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve the cake.

Assembling the cake:

Place one cake onto a serving plate, flat side down. Using a spatula, spread a ½-inch thick layer of the whipped cream on the cake. Place the second layer of cake, flat side down, onto the whipped cream and press lightly to compact the layers. Spread another layer of whipped cream onto this cake layer. Place the third cake layer, flat side facing up, onto the whipped cream and press to compact the layers. Now coat the top and sides of the assembled cake with the remaining whipped cream. Swirl the cream decoratively as desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Thanks to Lauren Wemischner for the photo.